Produced in partnership with Atrium Health.
Atrium Health Primary Care Virtual Family Medicine expands telehealth beyond one-time visits.
The background: Until recently, most telehealth visits were reserved for urgent care and other on-demand needs.
With Atrium Health Primary Care Virtual Family Medicine, you can establish a relationship with a family medicine physician for all your health care needs.
- Visits are conducted virtually from the comfort of your home, your office or on the go.
To get a better understanding of how the virtual primary care practice works and who it might be best for, we spoke with two Atrium Health doctors:
- Dr. Patty Grinton is a physician who leads Atrium Health’s Family Medicine Virtual On Demand and Virtual Primary Care team.
- Dr. Brian Kersten is an Atrium Health primary care physician and a physician leader within the Primary Care service line.
How is virtual primary care different from other types of virtual care?
Dr. Grinton: Virtual care has two main applications. The first is virtual urgent care, when you need a doctor because an issue has popped up at seven o’clock at night on Saturday.
- In this case, you typically get assigned whichever provider is in the queue.
With Atrium Health Primary Care Virtual Family Medicine, you have access to your virtual care team 24/7, but the difference is that you will know the physician or care team member and they will know you and your medical history.
Dr. Kersten: Similar to in-person primary care, Virtual Family Medicine gives you the opportunity to partner with a doctor — or team of doctors — for the long term.
What are the benefits?
Dr. Grinton: The main one is convenience, meaning we’re there when and where you need us — in the comfort of your home, on your couch, at the time of your choosing.
- Why it’s important: Lots of patients work from 9am–5pm and don’t have an easy time fitting in a doctor’s appointment. Weekend evenings might be the best time for some patients, and Virtual Family Medicine can accommodate that.
Continuity—having a relationship with your doctor—is another big benefit that you don’t get with virtual urgent care.
Is virtual primary care covered by insurance, and are there additional fees?
Dr. Kersten: It will be billed like an in-office visit, and there are no additional fees.
- An example: If you have a copay when you go to your traditional primary care physician, expect the same for a virtual primary care visit.
Can you expect the same security and quality of care?
Dr. Grinton: We use a HIPAA-compliant platform and all of our physicians are in an environment that ensures patient-doctor confidentiality.
As far as the quality of care, the Atrium Health network allows the Virtual Family Medicine experience to be world-class.
- Some examples: Access to specialty care, e-consults, clinical expertise and a vast system of resources.
We also have Patient Service Centers. If I’m seeing you for hypothyroidism, we can have a virtual visit to talk about your thyroid, then I can refer you to a nearby PSC to get your annual labs.
- You can do this for imaging services like X-rays too.
Dr. Kersten: And we’ll place the orders electronically—there’s no piece of paper you need to take with you. It’s pretty seamless.
Okay, but: We certainly recognize that sometimes a patient needs more in-person attention from a provider. In that case, we’d rely on the Atrium network and refer the patient to a brick-and-mortar office.
Can you see a Virtual Family Medicine doctor from anywhere?
Dr. Grinton: Your doctor has to be licensed in the state you’re in at the time of your appointment. Currently, all of our virtual primary care physicians are licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Looking ahead: We hope, maybe before year-end, to be licensed in additional nearby states. On our long-term roadmap, we want to be licensed in all 50 states.
What type of patient is virtual primary care right for?
Dr. Kersten: First, they’re going to have to be comfortable with technology. As far as lifestyle goes, virtual primary care is popular with young people and those who just need a quick check-in.
It’s also great for people who need prescription refills for conditions that don’t require hands-on care regularly: things like depression, anxiety, hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
- For conditions like those, I usually just need to know how you’re doing and how the medication is treating you.
Are there situations or services that aren’t a good match for Virtual Family Medicine?
Dr. Kersten: Annual physical exams can be challenging to do completely virtually because some components of a physical exam require in-person care. Certain acute and chronic conditions may require in-person care as well.
The takeaway: It’s going to be a highly customized experience for the patient. We encourage anyone who’s interested to make a new patient appointment, and a virtual care provider can help you decide whether Atrium Health Primary Care Virtual Family Medicine is right for you.
- Even if you determine that in-person care is best for you, we’ll help make that connection to an Atrium Health location or provider of your choice.